A love of vintage swing and harmony led singer-songwriter Cynthia Brando and actor-musician Cait Leow to form a self-described “vintage vamp harmony duo,” the Beachwood Belles. “I’m the vintage and she’s the vamp,” Brando wisecracks. “We’re playing more vintage music, and we do vamp it up; we have kind of a comedy act going sometimes.”
The two became aware of each other during a performance night at Kulak’s Woodshed in North Hollywood, after which Brando reached out to Leow about joining a new project drawing its melodic material from early 20th-century jazz, pop and country. They take turns singing lead while swapping out instruments (guitar, harmonica, ukulele and violin) from song to song.
“Before I moved to Los Angeles, I was in a band that played standards and did swing jazz and some country swing,” explains Brando, who now lives in South Pasadena. “I hadn’t done it for six years and I really wanted to do that again, and Cait’s the first person I saw who was really doing that style of music. She writes a lot in that style too. We’re going to do some Billie Holiday tunes, stuff like [Bessie Smith’s 1927 hit] ‘After You’ve Gone.’ ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ songs like that. We both love country swing music and we’re huge Patsy Cline and Bob Dylan fans too.”
Their performance chemistry was evident when Leow sat in for a number during Brando’s solo turn at a Songwriter Serenade showcase in Arcadia last fall, with Leow’s pixie-ish energy and glass-clear tone brightening Brando’s earthier vibrato and style. After trying out their still-developing repertoire at house concerts, the duo made their official debut as the Beachwood Belles in January at Michael Ubaldini’s Outlaws of Folk Music Series in Long Beach, and followed that up last month with a featured set at Wine & Song in South Pasadena. Next Thursday they will share a bill at the Coffee Gallery Backstage with Pasadena native Lisa Finnie, a smoky-toned singer and longtime KCSN radio host (“The Dylan Hours”) who will be backed by her very able trio.
According to Brando, three original songs and “modern tunes in our style from the Civil Wars, First Aid Kit and Lindi Ortega” will augment the Beachwood Belles’ standards-dominated set.
“Obviously, I wasn’t around” when those standards were written, she says, trying to explain their enduring appeal. “But it makes me feel nostalgic when I hear that music. I don’t know why. [Laughs] Mostly as solo artists we do our own music, but with this project people know the songs, so it creates a different vibe when you’re performing. It’s good to do something different like that.” n
The Beachwood Belles and Lisa Finnie & Friends at the Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20; $20. Info/reservations: (626) 798 6236. facebook.com/thebeachwoodbelles, lisafinnie.com, Coffeegallery.com